Sunday, 28 October 2012

Monster of the Week: Artificial Intelligence

Sarah Connor: You're terminated, fucker.
Machines, A.I, Robots. They all tend to fall in this category, and there are plenty of films and shows that showcase them. Like Aliens, they tend to border the worlds of Sci-fi and horror. When done well, it can be a terrible but awesome marriage, showing us our fears of technology. When done horribly, we get some laughable examples.

They aren't exactly monsters in the traditional sense, because they aren't made of living tissue. they can transform, but not by morphing anything resembling flesh. It can be argued they are constructs, but because the origins of what makes robots or A.I possible, I put them in their own category. There are quite a few examples of their appearance being monstrous in stories. I just don't think they are traditionally thought of as monsters. But when people fear something, they can turn anything into a monster. Just look at Killer Clowns. You can take anything normally harmless and twist it in your mind. You're toaster might be trying to kill you.

There are a couple of tropes used with A.I's. One is they are the ultimate peasant uprising. A warning not to make the mistake of the past and treat someone with a mind as if they did not have one. Another horrific trope is the creation of your own god, also known as making your replacement.  In a lot of ways, the build your own god trope is an extension of the Golem trope. They are very close in proximity. We made them, and now they are so much better than us. In a mechanistic world, we are obsolete and thrown away. And of course the common one used: Fear of the other, which I have already touched on. Because they just don't think like we do.

Usually when people fear A.I's it's because something has gone wrong while they were created, or because they have such an "alien" way of thinking, they don't know that humanity cannot handle their motivations. Some stories told show humanity warping the robot mentality by being cruel to it, or it observing our cruelty to a degree it adapts to project what it sees, or by threatening the "life" it has been given. Movies like The Animatrix show this beautifully. That we created our own demise because we took advantage of the robots we made, turning them into slaves, and worse. Another is Terminator. Skynet made the killer robots to protect itself.

In the end, the fear of technology is what the monster of the A.I represents. We create them with science, and when science goes wrong it can destroy more than mere human life.

Here is a nice sampling of some of my favourite horrific tales about robots and A.I gone wrong. A lot of these you might not even considered to have horror elements in them:

The original Terminator movie was a horror movie back in it's time. I know a few people would argue it, but think about it: A robot out of no where who has no reservations about cutting his own eyeball out and killing people for their clothes comes after you. And he wants to kill you. You don't friggen know why, you don't know how to stop him, and no one believes you until it's too late. Oh, and he can appear human looking.

Freaky shit. And it was done to BE freaky. The other movies later became more action-oriented, but the first one was a scary movie.

As I mentioned above, The Animatrix. Not all of it, but the story about what made the machines turn, is horrific .This story is called The Second Renaissance and it's in two parts. The torture scenes are particularly gruesome when the machines operate on people they've captured from the battle field. War is horror folks. Real horror. I never watch a war film and think anything different.

Here's a movie people might not consider horror, but I think still qualifies and is very dark. It's called 9 and it's a Tim Burton film. While it's so much more, the terrible reality of that universe that these cute little robotic puppets live in is scary. And the robots who take the souls of the puppets...not the nicest creations I've ever encountered.
And the classic 2001: Space Odyssey has one of the scariest A.I's of them all. Everyone remember's Hal 9000 right? How he goes a little loopy and no one knows why, but he starts to try to kill everyone on the ship. That's some classic techno-fear right there.

So, what's your favourite horrific A.I tale? Do you ever wonder what you'd do if a robot you lived with went crazy and tried to kill you? Do you think they should be treated as people if we give them enough intelligence to feel pain, and even love?


  1. The scariest AI for me is in one of my fav movies --- "I, Robot" with Will Smith. I love this take on Asimov's warning tale. I find the new robots to be supremely creepy in their "human-ness", and the concept of them controlling us for our own good is horrifying.

  2. I totally forgot to even mention those robots! Good call Dani! They are creepy!


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